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Legends of the Flood (Part 1)
Myth, Legend or History?
One of the most spectacular events in Holy Books of the three main monotheistic faiths on our planet. A global catastrophe that in itself that gives new meaning to the phrase "Of Biblical proportions" A flood that annihilated 99.999% or all life on the planet. Yet the sheer scale of the flood has meant that it's hard for us to even comprehend let alone believe and for many in today's world they don't believe it.
For most of us the story of Noah and his ark is something that belongs in the realm of Grimms fairy tales, a myth that may be there to teach that good wins out in the end. For others it's become a legend, something that might have been a localized flood in Mesopotamia that the writers of the Bible built into something else and with a 'moral message'
Today you'd be hard pressed to find people who actually believe in a global flood. That disturbs me as I'm one who likes to be able to find facts to show that what I believe at least haas some truth to it.
Searching for the facts
There's been arguments raging about Noah's Ark and whether there was a flood raging almost since the day the Ark came to rest on the mountain. The event is reputed to have taken place so far in antiquity that there are no records of it happening (or are there?) but could it have really happened? and if so are there any records other than the Bible and Qur'an accounts?
This hub will start to answer some of those questions and show that there's an abundance of evidence if we'll just open our eyes to look for it.
Could this be?
The story so far
Up until the eighteenth century pretty much everyone accepted the biblical account (or at least outwardly they did) but starting from about that time people began to question whether there was a God and whether the Bible's account pf things was valid anymore.
Most of the peasant populations still believed what the priest told them to believe but the gentry and the intellectuals began to question belief in God and with the propounding of the theory of evolution people began to think it was time to relegate the Bible to the realm of the fairytale.
Then in 1870 a worker at the British Museum made a startling discovery. George Smith was an engraver who had made a reputation for himself as a banknote engraver who had turned his eye for detail on the passion of his life, that of restoring ancient artifacts so that they could be restored for future generations. He'd been working on cuneiform inscriptions when he realized thane of the tablets he was working on was an account of the Biblical flood, but one like no other that he'd ever come across.
Being self taught in reading cuneiform he recognized the tablet as being in the Babylonian language, a language that had died out at the beginning of the Christian period and long before the Bible had been put together. He was holding the first non-biblical account of the flood and it had been dated (by the style of writing) at around 700BC! Not only that, but it was only a small part of a haul of literally thousands of tablets in the possession of the Museum. But the Bible had been relegated to the ranks of the fairytale! Was the Bible telling the truth after all?
Searching for the facts
I've always been perplexed by those who claim those who claim that there's evidence of the flood and then fail to produce it! either that or they then go on about some expedition or other to Mount Ararat that supposedly found some artifacts that there's no way to prove either way where it came from or even if it really existed in the first place. I know, I'm sounding negative but bear with me).
Recently I was reading a book called 'The Ark before Noah' By Irving Finkel the curator (or a curator) at the British Museum and it was amazing. One of the things he said in the book was that there are actually flood stories in over three hundred pre-literate cultures around the globe all of whom seem to relate to each other!
That was it, I was determined to find out if that was true and my search has been amazing. Not only true but the cultures are all over the earth touching every continent except Antarctica (for obvious reasons, there are no indigenous populations there)
In this hub I want to look at some of those cultures and the stories of the flood that they have. But first some ground rules.
The ground rules
- The culture has to have stories that can be traced back before the Missionaries arrived. The story itself will need to be traced right back to the beginning and there has to be no way it can be 'put there' by the Missionaries or interaction with Christians from an earlier time.
- The culture can be shown to be ancient. Ancient civilizations have their myths and legends, do any of them relate to a time when the earth was flooded?
- They need to be from different continents. Most Biblical scholars know the Babylonian stories of the flood (We'll look at them as well but as part of only one story of the flood as they can be shown to be traced back to one original).
So, are there any?
Actually, three hundred is probably a conservative estimate. The true figures are probably much higher. It's estimated that there are six thousand written languages in the world today with maybe another two or three thousand that have still to be committed to ink and with each one we are finding out more and more about what stone age man knew about his world.
One legend from North America
Some of the legends
The Video is one from the North American continent. It's very different from the Biblical account but the purpose of this hub isn't to argue which is more accurate but to show that there are many more legends of the flood than just what we find in the Holy Books.
Here are some of them that we'll look at
- North America (Native American)
- Gaelic (Irish pre-christian)
- African (Masai)
(1). North America
Most of the legends of the flood in the Americas begin with the statement of God or one of the 'gods' creating men but men forget the words that god told them and eventually it leads to the situation where the 'gods' have to take the drastic steps of wiping out almost all of humanity and beginning again.
What is amazing is that as far as we know the native population of the Americas (the legend I took for the YouTube clip is one of many) were already living in that continent when the book of Genesis was being penned by Moses and had been there for thousands of years when the Bible was finally completed. They were there isolated and there was no way that they could have known that other cultures would preserve a similar story, yet listen to the story and see if you don't find similarities.
The Native Americans had a culture that didn't have writing, they used oral traditions to transmit their history and traditions, yet this story has been faithfully transmitted for what is probably not hundreds but thousands of years without losing the essential truths of a Creator God who cared for his creation enough to step in and put things right when men messed it up and looked hard enough to find one (or a group) who walked close enough to him that he found a way to bring them through the flood.
Some more flood stories
(2). The Gaelic (Irish) Legends
The Irish are known as some of the best storytellers in the World, but to find that they have a story of the flood? The Irish story is based on the Lebor Gabála Érenn a collection of stories from ancient times that were written down and in some ways 'Christianized' but the Irish were determined that they would not lose their origins and managed to preserve many of the pagan Celtic legends about their origins in the stories.
They tell of the first descendents of Noah through one of his sons (not mentioned in the Bible account) being the first to arrive on the west coast of the Emerald Isle a few weeks before the deluge trying to find a place that would not be affected by it. Three ships make the trip, but only one makes it and they try to avoid the coming deluge but can't and eventually only one is left who is transformed into an Eagle and lives for thousands of years and is eventually transformed into a man again to tell the story.
Ireland is eventually re-settled by descendants of Noah through Magog but for the rest of the legend you'll have to look for it.
Quoted 'verbatim' from Wikipedia
Once upon a time the rivers began to flood. Then god told two people to get into a ship. He told them to take lots of seed and to take lots of animals. The water of the flood eventually covered the mountains. Finally the flood stopped. Then one of the men, wanting to know if the water had dried up let a dove loose. The dove returned. Later he let loose a hawk which did not return. Then the men left the boat and took the animals and the seeds with them.
The Masai live in East Africa. In Kenya and Tanzania, literally 'at the source of the Nile' thousand of miles from where the events of the Bible took place, yet read the account and see how similar to the other accounts it is?
India also has a flood tradition contained in some of the Hindu holy writings the Shatapatha Brahmana from around 700BC. The story is a simple one that says that Vishnu warns 'Manu' of the impending flood and tells him to take all the seed he can as well as all the animals.
A simple legend yet written in the Hindu holy books a long time before the Missionaries got to India (even the Apostle Thomas didn't get there for another seven hundred years and the first Jews didn't arrive for around five hundred years) yet there was a written record of the flood hundreds of years before anyone with a knowledge of the Genesis account arrived in the subcontinent. How can this be?
Legends of the flood
One final word
This isn't necessarily a hub about the accuracy of the Biblical account of the flood (I'll look at that in another hub) but one to show that the Jews and Christians were not the only ones with a flood tradition.
There is a belief that God has placed within every culture a witness to himself that once the people there find it they can use that witness to lead them back to him. Don Richardson in his books 'Peace Child' and 'Heaven in their hearts' explore this (Peace child is his story of his work as a Missionary and how he came across this principle). Could the fact that there are so many stories of the flood be part of that witness?
The next Hub will look more closely at the Ancient Assyrian and Babylonian flood stories and how closely they resemble the Noah account.
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